Slumps. We’ve all been there. Mentally. Physically. Slumps at work. Slumps in relationships. Slumps in mood. Why would running be any different. It is no fun being in a running slump. Whether it is a mental running slump or a plateau in performance, running slumps can be grueling. Running slumps can come in all shapes and sizes. Mini and mega.
I’ve started to notice a trend in my mega-running slumps, of which I’ve really only had two in my 15 years of running. The onset? Best year ever + layoff due to injury + attempting to comeback. I’ve heard a lot of fellow runners say things like “I had my best season ever after my injury!” Nope. That’s not me. But two mega-slumps in 15 years of running really isn’t too bad, right?
The first mega-slump came during my junior year of college. During my sophomore year, I was gunning for a NCAA Division III provisional qualifying mark in the 10,000 meter of 37:50. I was fit and could run 90 second quarters all day long. The only problem was, I kept entering the wrong meets. I ended up running about four 10,000 meter races all alone and never hitting the time. I beat myself up about it for the whole summer between my sophomore and junior years, trained myself into the ground and ended up in a dismal place of overtraining and sciatica. I’d like to say that running through overtraining and injury didn’t ruin the rest of my college career, but truth be told, it did. I still loved practice and long runs. I even loved watching my teammates compete and nail workouts. I just didn’t really care about my own racing, workouts or mileage. I went through the motions of a competitive runner for the next 2 years and contemplated quitting the sport competitively at least once a month but stuck it out because of my friends and teammates. I still loved running in and of itself, but it took me another 2 years to get back to a place where I wanted to try to be competitive again.
2011 was my best running year ever. I ran huge breakthroughs from my 2:53 marathon to finally gettting that sub-18 5k monkey off my back. And then the plantar fasciitis crept in and I was down for the count for 3 loooong months. Right now, I’m about 5 months into my post-injury comeback. When I was injured I couldn’t wait to start training again! But that I am and after 5 months of no change in my mental state, I’m done denying it: I am in a mega-slump.
Don’t get me wrong, I am loving my 5:30 AM 5-10 mile plods at 9-10 min/mile. I’m learning to trust my body/foot and read the difference between normal running twinges and red-flag pains. But when I think about workouts, racing, and competition, I want to crawl into a hole and hide. Thoughts of team time standards, goal races, and marathon training are enough to make me want to join a meditative center or become a full-time yogi. On one hand, I feel this need to run a year-salvaging race before the end of 2012. But on the other hand, I think, I’d be content with transitioning to a race runner instead of a race racer. What lies at the heart of the issue? Getting back into shape stinks! It stresses me out and makes me doubt my potential. Bottom line? It takes the fun out of running.
So how to we get the fun back? Here are a few strategies I’m employing to minimize slumptime.
1. Recognize the problem: Just like any other bad habit or maladaptive behavior, you have to recognize you have a “problem.” Once you stop denying it, you can start to fix it. Good news here? I’m about 2 years ahead of schedule in comparison to my last slump. Hurray!
2. Back to Basics. I don’t have a desire to run fast or race, but I still genuinely enjoy running. This is great! But what is it about running that I love? How do I do more of what I love in running and less of what I hate? Why did I start running in the first place? Why do I want to make a “comeback” at all? These are all questions you need to ask as you try to get back to basics. For me, I started running because I like to be active. If I sit still too long, I get bored and antsy. From day one, I loved “perimeters” (2/3 mile loops around the school) while most of my teammates prefered to hide in the woods. I loved courses with turn-arounds to see and cheer on my teammates (ahead and behind me) and I cherished the 2-3 meets a year with a 4 x 1600 meter relays. And I love the feeling of starting the day with a run instead of coffee and a donut. So what are my running basics? I love moderately paced, long easy runs. I love comraderie and sharing running with others. What is my ticket out of this slump? Easy morning runs, with friends when possible and supporting my teammates in their competitive endeavors. Afterall, I’m still a sucker for competition, just not my own, in this moment.
3. Take your time. This is incredibly hard for me. It seems unnatural. My whole running career, I’ve chased time-sensitive time goals. Run xxx in the 5k before this date to qualify for this meet. Meet xx goal before the end of the season or wait until next year. Hit the BQ during this qualifying window to register before it sells out. Ahhhh! How am I supposed to take my time with this comeback when deadlines are everywhere? It’s a decision. Just like I decide to get out of bed for a run each morning, I must decide to throw deadlines out the window. It may mean I miss out on team member perks and qualifying marks, but if it keeps me in the sport, then it’s worth the sacrifice. Annd, we’re about to have a moment… Inside, I know I’ll get back to racing races, someday. And who knows. Maybe I’ll wake up one Saturday morning and feel like jumping in a 5k. But I’m not puting anything on the calendar until I want to because racing half-heartedly not only isn’t worth the entry fee, it isn’t worth the mental blow.
4. No judgment. One of my teammies uses this phrase when she gets a little to tipsy, so it always makes me giggle. But how does it apply to my slumpbusting? Well, while I fill my week with mostly easy, slow morning runs with friends (I think I need an acronym for that phrase…), easy running isn’t going to get be back to competition shape, which is the ultimate goal. I need to stop judging my performance. Many runners do this by going watchless. I’m a geek for feedback and data, so while I’m not about to sell my Garmin on ebay, I am making an effort to track performance objectively. One way I do this is by running taking interval/rep splits but refusing to look at them until the workout is over. That way, the data is there for me when I get home to my training log, but in the middle of the run, I run on effort. This is also a good strategy for overcoming self-imposed “limits” on performance or other workout anxiety. Try it. You’ll like it.
Through my 3 month cross-training-through-injury extravaganza, I delusionally thought that once I could run again, the hard part would be over. While I’m incredibly thankful to be logging miles on the roads instead of in the pool, I think the hardest part is yet to come!
Have you encountered a mega-slump in your running? What advice do you have for busting through a running slump?